Sorry, Mr. Mayor, but Wawa’s decision to close two Center City stores is a “bad omen” for Philadelphia.
Mayor Jim Kenney last week tried to spin the move by Wawa to shutter stores at 12th and Market Streets and 19th and Market Streets as routine business evolution, adding he did not think it was “a bad omen at all.”
Kenney said the two locations had “certain issues” that were costing Wawa money. He casually tried to minimize the move: “There’s lots of reasons why things change and things close.”
Perhaps, but a Wawa spokesperson flat out said the decision to close the stores was the result of “continued safety and security challenges.” The company had taken previous steps, such as reducing the hours of operation, before deciding to pull out.
The closings come just weeks after about 100 teens ransacked a Wawa in Mayfair. In February, a man was stabbed to death outside of a Wawa in South Philadelphia. On Thursday, a Wawa employee in University City was pepper sprayed during a robbery involving five suspects. In 2020, Wawa cited the pandemic as the reason to close its flagship store at Broad and Walnut Streets.
Philly leaders say Wawa’s ‘safety and security concerns’ don’t mean Center City is dangerous
Wawa is an iconic brand with deep roots in the Philadelphia region. In turn, the company has a loyal customer base that drives Wawa’s more than $10 billion in annual revenues. So, while the company supports many events in the city, it is disappointing to see Wawa turn its back on Philadelphia and not do more to keep the stores open, let alone open any new locations in the city.
It is also difficult, however, to view the closings as anything but a negative statement about the city. Crime and daily shootings in Philadelphia are major concerns for businesses and residents in every corner of the city. A rise in retail theft has plagued many other businesses as well, including CVS and Starbucks, which closed a store at 10th and Chestnut Streets because of safety concerns.
That is all the more reason why Kenney’s seemingly laissez-faire approach is a broader concern. The mayor needs to be the city’s cheerleader while doing more to address the rise in crime.
The number of murders in Philadelphia has gone up every year Kenney has been mayor, climbing from 277 in 2016 to a record 562 last year. The killings this year could set another record.
Overall, there have been nearly 2,000 shootings in the city this year — an average of six shootings a day.
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To be sure, shootings are up all across the country, and the city is hamstrung by Republicans in Harrisburg and Washington who refuse to pass meaningful gun safety measures.
Taken together, the collective inaction leaves few feeling safe in Philadelphia these days. A recent poll by Pew Charitable Trusts found crime, drugs, and public safety accounted for the top concerns of 70% of residents — an increase of 30% since 2020.
Eighty-five percent of residents believe gun violence has gotten worse over the past three years. Sadly, two-thirds reported hearing gunshots in their neighborhoods in the past year.
Overall, nearly two-thirds of residents say Philadelphia is seriously on the wrong track. That is the most pessimistic residents have been about the city since Pew began keeping track in 2009.
Adding to the insecurity is a lack of confidence in City Hall. After two police officers were shot during the July Fourth celebration along the Benjamin Franklin Parkway, Kenney said he would “be happy” when he was not mayor anymore.
Kenney apologized, but many viewed his comments as tantamount to quitting on the city. After all, the mayor has seemed unengaged, at least from the public aspect of the job, for some time. By comparison, it is hard to imagine former Mayor Ed Rendell standing idly by while Wawa closed stores or shootings skyrocketed.
When Rendell became mayor in 1992, the city was on the brink of bankruptcy. He brokered a game-changing deal with Philadelphia’s municipal unions, and he spearheaded efforts that eventually led to building the Kimmel Center, numerous hotel deals, the transformation of the Navy Yard, and luring the Republican National Convention to Philadelphia. If Rendell were mayor today, he would likely be strong-arming Wawa executives into staying in Center City, rather than passively turning away.
Indeed, the continued lack of urgency from City Hall and Police Headquarters when it comes to the sharp rise in crime and shootings is inexcusable. While the city has increased funding to combat gun violence, an analysis by the city controller found that the programs would take years to produce measurable results.
Residents do not have years to wait for the gun violence to subside. Wawa is voting with its feet. Not everyone has the same luxury.
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